A Review of J. P. Moreland, “Scientism and Secularism”

A Review of J. P. Moreland, Scientism and Secularism, Wheaton: Crossway, 2019, 222 pages, pbk

J. P. Moreland is a seasoned Christian philosopher who has provided the Church with some very good tools in defense of the Faith and the Christian Worldview.  He has been Professor of Philosophy at Biola for many years.  This timely book is most welcome as it engages one of the most pernicious false ideas that has arisen from man’s innate hatred of God (Rom. 1:18-25).

Scientism is essentially the belief that only science, especially the hard sciences, can give us solid knowledge of the world.  Although many of its advocates do not come right out and say it in such blunt terms, that is their faith.

Moreland refers to  “hard scientism” and “soft scientism”, the difference between them being that the softer variety allows that other fields of study may have something to say, but nothing as authoritative as the pronouncements of “science.” (29-30).  This belief in the magisterium of the lab coat has come about because of a shift in the “plausibility structure” in the society (32-33).  The organized and heavily guarded groupthink that permeates school and university curricula and the media.  Behind this is the ever-potent force of people not wanting God to be there. (191-194).

In the third chapter the writer relates how the universities were transformed into bastions of secularism, and this was chiefly done by the acceptance of scientism.  This shift did not occur because of evidence.  “Rather, it was merely a pragmatic sociological shift.” (48. Italics are the author’s).

The short fourth chapter is entitled “Scientism Is Self-Refuting.”  This little chapter is important because it not only shows that self-refuting stahttps://drreluctant.wordpress.com/2014/11/03/further-thoughts-on-the-call-to-the-ministry/tements are necessarily false (51), but that scientism is ironically not even a scientific position.  Scientism is “an epistemological viewpoint about science; it is not a statement of science.” (52, cf. 57).  From this position Moreland shows that philosophical presuppositions (say, about the nature of truth) are necessary before any science can get underway (ch. 5).

Unsurprisingly, Moreland spends time on the matter of consciousness and mental states.  Consciousness is and always will be a first-person phenomenon.  Neurologists depend upon the honest reports from the subject to gather their data (86-90).  But of course many neuroscientists have bought into physicalism, wherein the human being is viewed simply as the accumulation of active molecular parts – a machine (90-105).

Further chapters engage the Hawking/Mlodinow thesis that everthing came from nothing (ch. 10).  He takes several shots at methodological naturalism (121, ch. 13), includes a fine section on Fine-Tuning (143-149), and near-death experiences (92-94), and useful chapters on the integration of Christianity and Science (chs. 14 & 15).

The book does not analyze secularism as such.  It’s main aim is against the rampant scientism in our culture and to help Christians understand and critique it.  He rightly inveighs against “using watered-down, intellectually vacuous, simplistic preaching that is always applied to a parishioner’s private life while failing to deal from the pulpit with the broad cultural, intellectual, and moral issues facing us all” (39-40).  There is a helpful bibliography of recommended books at the end.

Scientism and Secularism sometimes seems to lack the cut and thrust of more polemical works, but it is recommended reading for anyone who wants to be conversant with a culture saturated with the canons of irrational scientism.

5 comments

  1. Good review, I’m looking forward for this book, since the subject is timely. I also thought on how often science is turned into a religion. Just tell the magic words: “it’s scientific”, or science says…and people are ready to accept anything.

    Btw, dr Paul, I would be very interested in a bibliography/recomandation regarding apologetics – I think it could be very useful. There are a lot of books written on this subject, so it’s quite intimidating to choose, especially since the quality varies quite a lot.

    I will post here a list with the authors translated into my country, I’m curious which one you think are worthy: (I”m translating the titles from romanian, so they might not be exact):

    – Mark Mittelberg (the reason why; questions christians are afraid of)
    – Colin Peckham (Bible’s authority)
    – Werner gitt (questions that always get asked)
    – Ray comfort (God does not believe in atheists)
    – Gregory Koukl (Relativism – I know you recommend this in a post; Tactics)
    – Paul Taylor (Darwin and darwinism)
    – Joe Boot (why I still believe)
    – Timothy R. Philips (chrisitan apologetics in contemporary world)
    – Michael Ots (what kind of god we have ?)
    – Barry Cooper (if you could ask God a question)
    – Antony Flew (there is a God)
    – Erwin Lutzer (7 arguments to believe Bible)
    – Jean-Luc Marion (on the rationality of revelation and irationality of believers)
    – Amy Orr-Ewing (why should you believe Bible ?)
    – Daniel Chamberlin (a portrait of God)
    – Remi brague (the christian God)
    – Edward K. Boyd (letters from a sceptic)
    – Bryan Ball (can we still believe the bible ?)
    – Os Guiness (fool’s talk)
    – Jacques Ellul (undermining christianity)
    – Josh Mcdowell (more than a carpenter; Searching for certainty; Evidence for the Resurrection; New Evidence That Demands A Verdict)
    – John Lennox (God’s undertaker; 7 days that split the world)
    – Strobel (the case for Christ; case for faith; in defense of Jesus)
    – T. Keller (reason for God)
    – N. Geisler (if God, why evil ?; Who made God ?; I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist; the big book of christian apologetics)
    – J. Mcarthur (war for truth)
    – A. Mcgrath (apologetics; the big question)
    – R. Zacharias (end of reason; has christianity failed you ? can man live without God ?; the grand weaver)
    – J P Moreland (love your God with all your mind)

    Not translated in Romania is Grothuis’s new book, which is huge – I wonder if it is worthy ?

    1. Immanuel, I have copied your list and supplied brief remarks:

      – Mark Mittelberg (the reason why; questions christians are afraid of) -Haven’t read these
      – Colin Peckham (Bible’s authority) – Good, worthwhile
      – Werner gitt (questions that always get asked) – Haven’t read it. Like his ‘Without Excuse’
      – Ray comfort (God does not believe in atheists) – Okay
      – Gregory Koukl (Relativism – I know you recommend this in a post; Tactics) -Recommend him
      – Paul Taylor (Darwin and darwinism) – don’t know it
      – Joe Boot (why I still believe) – recommended. Presuppositional
      – Timothy R. Philips (chrisitan apologetics in contemporary world) – Rubbish
      – Michael Ots (what kind of god we have ?) – Don’t know it
      – Barry Cooper (if you could ask God a question) – don’t know it
      – Antony Flew (there is a God) – very good, even if it doesn’t argue for the biblical God
      – Erwin Lutzer (7 arguments to believe Bible) – pretty good
      – Jean-Luc Marion (on the rationality of revelation and irationality of believers) – not familiar
      – Amy Orr-Ewing (why should you believe Bible ?) – I like this
      – Daniel Chamberlin (a portrait of God) – don’t know it
      – Remi brague (the christian God) – don’t know it
      – Edward K. Boyd (letters from a sceptic) – Good questions, often poor ‘answers’
      – Bryan Ball (can we still believe the bible ?) – okay
      – Os Guiness (fool’s talk) – recommended
      – Jacques Ellul (undermining christianity) – don’t know it. A great thinker but Christian Marxist
      – Josh Mcdowell (more than a carpenter; Searching for certainty; Evidence for the Resurrection; New Evidence That Demands A Verdict) – These are okay, but faulty method
      – John Lennox (God’s undertaker; 7 days that split the world) – good
      – Strobel (the case for Christ; case for faith; in defense of Jesus) – okay
      – T. Keller (reason for God) – pretty good
      – N. Geisler (if God, why evil ?; Who made God ?; I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist; the big book of christian apologetics) – okay, but shot through with Thomism
      – J. Mcarthur (war for truth) – okay
      – A. Mcgrath (apologetics; the big question) – okay
      – R. Zacharias (end of reason; has christianity failed you ? can man live without God ?; the grand weaver) – All worthwhile
      – J P Moreland (love your God with all your mind) – very good

      Not translated in Romania is Grothuis’s new book, which is huge – I wonder if it is worthy ? – I don’t like Groothuis’s verificationalist method, and his booklist has no presuppositionalists! Still, the book has some good material.

      I’ll try to provide my own list some time soon

  2. Thank you very much, this is very helpful. I’m looking forward to your list, especially since I know very few titles about presupp apologetics (and I’m curious what do you recommend from the classic apologetics).

    1. I think classical apologetics can be helpful in its alternative way of approaching the world’s thinking. This is especially the case when it employs ethical and teleological arguments. E.g. I think Edward Feser’s book ‘The Last Superstition’ is a brilliant dismantling of the New Atheists on their own terms. Similarly, Moreland’s ‘Scaling the Secular City’ is impressive.

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